Foods to Avoid

One of the most important things for mothers-to-be and those who are trying to conceive is to eat nutritional and well balanced meals. Eating well balanced meals is one of the best ways to get the necessary vitamins, nutrients and minerals for a healthy baby. The majority of foods are safe to eat, but there are common foods that pose risks during pregnancy and the safest thing to do is to avoid them altogether.

Foods to avoid during my pregnancy:

Although you will probably here other mothers tell you that they ate items off of this list and everything was fine, it is better to be safe than sorry. Here is a quick list of foods to avoid during your pregnancy to increase the probabilities of a healthy baby:

  • Raw Meat
  • Deli Meat
  • Fish with Mercury
  • Smoked Seafood
  • Raw Shellfish
  • Fish Exposed to Industrial Pollutants
  • Raw Eggs
  • Soft Cheeses
  • Unpasteurized Milk

Why should these foods be avoided during my pregnancy?

It is quite possible that you could eat these foods and be fine, but the primary problem is that these foods are more susceptible to bacteria, toxoplasmosis, listeria and salmonella. It is possible to be exposed to these things as an adult and experience stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea etc. as your immune system helps you fight it off. The problem is that your baby does not have the same immunity and cannot handle such toxic or poisonous things to his system.

What is the risk for each of these foods?

Some of these foods are more susceptible to certain problems whereas others have multiple concerns. Here is the list of foods and the possible complications that could be experienced:

Raw Meat: Uncooked or undercooked seafood, beef or chicken has the risk of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella.

Deli Meat: Deli meats could be contaminated with listeria, which can cause miscarriage.

Fish with Mercury: Fish that contain high levels of mercury should be avoided. Mercury consumed during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays and brain damage. Fish has nutrients that are beneficial to you and your developing baby, so it is important to not forgo fish altogether. Check for lists of fishes that are good to eat and which ones should be avoided.

Smoked Seafood –Refrigerated, smoked seafood often labeled as lox, nova style, kippered, or jerky should be avoided because it could be contaminated with Listeria. (These are safe to eat when they are in an ingredient in a meal that has been cooked, like a casserole.) This type of fish is often found in the deli section of your grocery store. Canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood is usually OK to eat.

Fish Exposed to Industrial Pollutants: There are lakes and rivers that may be contaminated with high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls. This is primarily for those who fish in local lakes and streams. Contact the local health department or Environmental Protection Agency to determine which fish are safe to eat in your area. Remember, this is regarding fish caught in local waters and not fish from your local grocery store.

Raw Shellfish: The majority of seafood-borne illness is caused by undercooked shellfish, which include oysters, clams, and mussels. Cooking helps prevent some types of infection, but it does not prevent the algae-related infections that are associated with red tides. Raw shellfish pose a concern for everybody, and they should be avoided altogether during pregnancy.

Raw Eggs: Raw eggs or any foods that contain unpasteurized raw eggs should be avoided because of the potential exposure to salmonella. Some homemade Caesar dressings, mayonnaise, homemade ice cream or custards, and Hollandaise sauces may be made with raw eggs.

If the recipe is cooked at some point, this will reduce the exposure to salmonella. Commercially manufactured ice cream, dressings, and eggnog are made with pasteurized eggs and do not increase the risk of salmonella. Restaurants should be using pasteurized eggs in any recipe that is made with raw eggs, such as Hollandaise sauce or dressings.

Soft Cheeses: Imported soft cheeses may contain bacteria called Listeria. Here is a list of cheeses that is recommended to avoid during your pregnancy: Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, Feta, Gorgonzola and Mexican style cheeses that include queso blanco and queso fresco, unless they clearly state that they are made from pasteurized milk. All soft non-imported cheeses made with pasteurized milk are safe to eat.

Unpasteurized Milk: Unpasteurized milk may contain bacteria called listeria. It is important to make sure that the milk that you drink is pasteurized.

Pate: Refrigerated pate or meat spreads should be avoided because they may contain the bacteria listeria. Canned pate, or shelf-safe meat spreads can be eaten.

Caffeine: There are studies that show that limited caffeine drinking is alright, however, there are other studies that show that caffeine during pregnancy is related to an increase chance of miscarriage. Additionally, there are studies that show an increase risk of premature birth and low birth weight. The safest thing is to avoid caffeine during the first trimester and lessen any chances of miscarriage. It is also important to realize that caffeine is a diuretic, which means it helps get rid of water from the body. Hydration is essential during your pregnancy, so if you drink any caffeine, make sure you over compensate with the water.

Alcohol: There are NO amounts of alcohol known to be safe during pregnancy, and therefore alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy. Drinking during your pregnancy can have a negative affect on your baby’s health. Drinking alcohol can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or other developmental disorders. If you drank alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, stop drinking now. Drinking alcohol should also be avoided during breastfeeding. Exposure of alcohol to an infant poses harmful risks, and alcohol does reach the baby during breastfeeding.

Unwashed Vegetables: Yes, vegetables are safe to eat, so you still need to eat them. However, it is essential to make sure they are washed to avoid potential exposure to toxoplasmosis.

Last Updated: 07/2008


Compiled using information from the following sources:

Mayo Clinic Guide To A Healthy Pregnancy Harms, Roger W., M.D., et al, Introduction.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, http://www.fda.gov/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov

Eating for Two: The Complete Guide to Nutrition during Pregnancy Abbott-Hess, Mary, et al, Ch. 4, 5 and 7.

William’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 8.

Foods to Avoid, http://www.americanpregnancy.org

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